How to deal with negative self-talk in sport?


Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

Do you, your kid or your athletes have negative self-talk?

I suck, I am going to fail as usual, I don’t belong, I can’t beat him, we can’t win that game, what if I make a mistake?, I don’t feel great today”, …  Sounds familiar?

All these negative self-talks are a very common issue with athletes. For a reason: our brain is wired in a way that will always fear for the worse. When we are having these thoughts, we act from the amygdala in the primitive lower brain, (responsible for the fight or flight mode). This actually leads to releasing cortisol which will feed even more this reaction entering into a negative spiral. It is therefore very important to be able to identify as soon as possible that spiral and break it.

So, how do you that? Here are some tips:

  • Identify the negative self-talk (awareness)
  • Be specific in your self-talk to avoid seeing you bad as a whole
  • Challenge your talk:
    • what do you know for sure?
    • Can you really predict what’s going to happen? (hint: actually no)
    • Remember a time when you had this negative self-talk and things happened to go well
  • Relabel it as temporary: it’s no more than thoughts and emotions that will go away.

Other more advanced techniques such as visualization, emotion management techniques, power words can help to switch from negative self-talk to positive self-talk and can be learned and practiced with a mental game coach or sport psychologist.

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